Remember instant cameras? You take a picture and get an actual photo a minute later. Latter-day instant cameras have tapped into the warm fuzzy nostalgia of having an actual physical thing to hold on to, with the added benefit of a stored digital copy.
Fujifilm's Instax mini LiPlay ($159) doesn't just take photos and print them out, it can also record an audio clip to go along with the picture. You can also control the camera from your phone and even print photos from there. But all these features make what's supposed to be a simple instant camera way too complicated.
Visually, the LiPlay is very busy. The front of the mostly black camera has copper trim around the lens and the audio button. The shutter button (also on the front) is also clad in copper. The top of the camera has a strip of copper, with the power button inlaid within, as well as three shortcut buttons to quickly add a favorite frame.
The back of the camera has a large color LCD, with a circular navigation pad and three other buttons to the left. Annoyingly, you have to turn the phone on its side to read the menu. Here, you can add filters and frames and change flash settings, among other things.
The app lets you change the shortcut buttons, print photos from your smartphone and use your smartphone as a remote viewfinder.
Among the instant cameras I've tested, I generally prefer photos from Fujifilm's cameras, since they use actual photo paper, rather than a Zink printer. As a result, colors tend to be richer and more saturated. However, photos from the LiPlay came out paler than I expected; in one shot some red flowers were orange, while the pink jumper a baby was wearing was washed out. Sadly, you can apply frames only retroactively, and not filters, which might help mitigate this issue.
The photos with audio are novel, but it's too involved to be anything but gimmicky. To use it, you first have to press the microphone button on the camera, then the shutter button. The camera will then record up to 10 seconds of audio and link it with the image file. If you want to print the photo with the recording, you have to pair the camera via Bluetooth with the Fujifilm smartphone app on your phone (available for Android and iOS). When you print a photo with sound, it uses your smartphone to upload the audio file to the cloud, which takes about 15 seconds, depending on your connection. Not very spontaneous.
The LiPlay then prints out a hard copy of the photo with a small QR code in the corner. When a person scans the image using a smartphone, it will prompt the individual to open a web page with a digital copy of the image, and the audio recording will play. The LiPlay's microphone is pretty sensitive, so it picks up sounds well. It's all cute and fun, but the novelty wears off quickly. And, you're stuck with a photo with a QR code, which isn't attractive.
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Digital copies of the image are a respectable 2560 x 1920 pixels, but at just 72 dots per inch. The aforementioned photo of the flowers had pretty good detail — the raindrops on the petals were well-defined — but I wouldn't expect much more out of an instant camera.
For something that's supposed to be a simple device, the Fujifilm Instax mini LiPlay just feels too complicated: there are too many buttons and the interface is too busy. And while photos with audio clips is a novel idea, the whole process, from taking the photo and audio, to actually watching and listening to it, is not as instant as an instant camera should be.